Make sure your staff are informed loud and clear

The start of October marked the six-month anniversary of the introduction of the Information and Consultation Directive, which compels employers with more than 150 staff to inform workers about developments in their business.

New research shows that most UK employers are rising to the challenge of informing and consulting employees.

A survey of 160 employers, with a total of more than 500,000 staff, conducted by Personnel Today’s sister title IRS Employment Review, revealed that a number of organisations have recently set up new consultation forums or councils.

A quarter of the employers surveyed have established a permanent consultation body since the beginning of 2003. In total, 68% of those surveyed have one or more employee consultation bodies.

The CBI’s Employment Trends 2005 survey showed employers use a range of methods to communicate with staff, but 87% still prefer to use direct means, such as regular team meetings rather than staff councils (42%) or trade unions (42%).

Companies with union representation report that relationships are working well, especially with workplace representatives focused on increased productivity and improving conditions.

CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said: “Too often it is suggested that employers do not involve their staff in the day-to-day running of the business. This survey exposes that myth.”

But separate research suggests the vast majority of employees in the UK have no idea of their right to ask their employer about its future plans.
A study of 1,000 workers, by consultancy CHA, showed that more than 80% have not heard of the directive. About the same number have not been told about the directive by their employer, and almost all (94%) have not been told by their trade union.

When the regulations were announced in 2002, it was welcomed by unions as an opportunity for employees to find out about future plans that might affect the workplace.

Supporters of the directive complained about the tendency among many companies to keep workers in the dark about redundancy plans, often until job losses were announced to the market.

Yet just 13% of the employees surveyed by CHA were aware that the directive gave them the right to ask management about future business direction. This suggests that both employers and unions have done little to keep workers informed about the changes.

Last month, Amicus, the union with the largest membership in the private sector, warned that companies that tried to get their employees to sign watered-down information and consultation agreements would face a legal challenge from the union.

Tony Burke, assistant general secretary, said that some companies were not working within the spirit of the new laws, and that Amicus would fight them to ensure the new regulations were applied correctly.

How to inform staff
The IRS survey illustrates a wide range of ways in which employers inform and consult employees – from staff briefings and opinion surveys to e-mail updates.

Many employers emphasised the importance of face-to-face meet-ings and briefings, and the need to focus communications rather than overload people with information.

Most said they consulted staff on working conditions, health and safety, and changes to employ-ment status. But the proportion that consult their workforce on financial performance or changes to products and services, at 17% and 38% respectively, is low.

One in three employers have asked employees to agree that its current information and consultation arrangements are satisfactory – most commonly through its existing staff committee or forum. Only two employers said they had received a request for new arrangements from employees.

However, these were requests made through the organisation’s existing consultation machinery, and not requests for negotiations under the statutory framework.

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